Just in time for Avengers:Endgame: One last battle with Science!
Far be it from me to argue with Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist, television and radio host, but in this particular issue regarding Thanos and his reasons for the “Snapture” (the colloquial term used to refer to Thanos’ erasure of half the species of the Universe in Avengers: Infinity War), I found some aspects of Tyson’s proposal to be just as problematic as the Mad Titan’s genocidal solution to his perceived cosmic overpopulation problem.
Tyson’s tweets on the subject said:
“Sure, Thanos is singularly evil. But I bet he flunked Astro 101.
He wants to kill half of all living things to save the other half — due to limited resources.
But the universe has vastly more resources than can possibly be consumed by civilizations that have access to space.”
He also suggested the more common response:
“If you wield the power to snap your finger and end half of all life in the universe — to preserve resources for those who remain — then you surely have the power to snap your finger and double the resources instead.
@Avengers, I checked the math on that one.”
These were part of a recent conversation Tyson was having on Twitter likely because Avengers: Endgame was nearing release. However, I dare to challenge the wisdom of Neil deGrasse Tyson solution with a detailed analysis of what Thanos should have considered instead: Giving each species the capacity to control their fertility species-wide.
The Third Option: Population Control
This problem isn’t about feeding people, its about controlling the population of presumably millions of interstellar species. For the record, I do agree with Tyson’s initial premise: If you are a interstellar species capable of traveling across the stars, you should NEVER really be able to starve as you would either farm other planets or travel to new worlds as your population exceeded your planet’s carrying capacity. You would also have the capacity to build planetary mega-structures which could be used exclusively for farming such as O’Neill cylinders. While we will reference Wikipedia, Thanos would have had this knowledge available to him using the super-intelligence granting aspects of the Infinity Gem known as the Mind Stone:
“The O’Neill cylinder (also called an O’Neill colony) is a space settlement design proposed by American physicist Gerard K. O’Neill in his 1976 book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. O’Neill proposed the colonization of space for the 21st century, using materials extracted from the Moon and later from asteroids.”
“An O’Neill cylinder would consist of two counter-rotating cylinders. The cylinders would rotate in opposite directions in order to cancel out any gyroscopic effects that would otherwise make it difficult to keep them aimed toward the Sun. Each would be 5 miles (8.0 km) in diameter and 20 miles (32 km) long, connected at each end by a rod via a bearing system. They would rotate so as to provide artificial gravity via centrifugal force on their inner surfaces.” See Also: Topopolis
There were probably two dozen other solutions to this problem which could have been resolved without murdering half the Universe. We have to chalk this one up to a sociopathic desire for order, based in Thanos’ ego and probably caused by the suffering Thanos experienced as a child. Growing up, Thanos chooses to impose his will on other species under the guise of benevolence, to hear Ebony Maw tell it. No amount of rationalizing can justify what Thanos has done, and to viewers, his unswerving belief, his apparent nobility, doing what needs to be done, makes him one of Marvel’s most successful villains of their twenty-two movie entertainment franchises.
Basically, Thanos Blew It
But Thanos was woefully incorrect. Deleting half the species in the known Universe or (as Tyson suggested) doubling up on their food supplies are at best short-term solutions to the problem and here’s why:
Because making more food would have been as physically demanding as erasing half the sentients in the Universe and would have exacerbated the problem rather than relieved it. What happens when you give a population plenty of food? You guessed it… more population.
But Thanos’ solution wasn’t right, either. Not by a long-shot. If he really wanted to help the Universe, he would have given every species “perfect birth control.” A means by which a species had absolute control over their population growth —which theoretically is within the province of the Infinity Gauntlet, but hardly as sexy as semi-genocide on a Universal scale.
Population control would have had a better effect on these species over time and not required “erasure maintenance” needing someone to erase half of the sentients in the Universe every few hundred to a few thousand years when the meter said ‘full.’
Thanos isn’t right and I am surprised, given the Infinity Gauntlet should have blessed him with omniscience (all-knowing) to realize his plan is not only doomed to failure but would required periodic erasures of every species resilient enough to survive half of its infrastructure providers disappearing without a trace.
He essentially would create a Universe dependent upon his purges to survive since species would never learn how to deal with their societal issues on their own.
“Too many people, not to worry, The Great Purge will happen any decade now and fix this problem. Praise Thanos.”
More importantly, societies like ours would likely mostly collapse in fear and terror, governments assuming there was some other force at work would probably kill the rest of the survivors in a nuclear attack (assuming there were enough people to launch said nuclear weapons.) Humanity, as a sample species, affected by the Snapture is psychologically ill-suited to have half of its population approximately (3.8 billion) people disappear, even if it was clean and tidy, all at once, without warning.
Imagine if you will, all the airplanes that would crash, all the hospitals that would go offline, all the nuclear power plants whose crews would not return to work, all the military facilities now left barely guarded, all the fishermen who won’t go back to fishing, all the scientists, scholars, and other people we simply don’t realize we depend upon were to vanish without a trace right in the middle of what they were doing. Most major metropolises would have to be emptied because the remaining resident would starve to death since supply and logistic food lines would collapse almost immediately. Earth, as a pre-AI, pre-robotic society, would grind to a halt as the survivors had to cope with the question of what happened, why it happened and most importantly, when will it happen again?
Thanos is a monster, his Final Solution is not a blessing, but more a monstrous curse he would lay upon the Universe and would have to do it again, depending on the nature of life and how many societies would survive their collapse back into barbarism. Given the physical toll it appears to take on him and the Infinity Gauntlet, it wasn’t something done lightly. We see the Infinity Gauntlet burned out and broken after the Snapture.
Thanos is a fanatic. So driven, even with the Time Stone at his command, he didn’t bother to take the time to SEE if what he proposed was even a viable solution. It may have FELT emotionally right, but logically and intellectually, it should have come up as the wrong thing to do.
He should have been able to read the minds of the entire Universe and realize the shock and horror he would be leaving across the cosmos, to hear the cries and souls of people left to wonder what will become of them, how could their gods have forsaken them, and who the hell was going to farm, now that half the people who know HOW to farm just disappeared? Thanos was only convinced of his belief that he was RIGHT and your individual capacities as species didn’t matter. He was the worst kind of God. Capricious, willful and without concern for those he was in a position to actually protect and guide into making better choices.
Sorry, there will be no “Thanos Was Right” tee-shirts at my house. Thanos was wrong and even without cosmic awareness, super-intellect or omniscience given to me by the Infinity Gauntlet I can see this. In a snap.
It definitely would have made for a shorter movie. Cue wavy lines…
SCENE: AVENGERS HEADQUARTERS, INTERIOR
Stark in a panic has his AI Friday put out the battle-cry using his new nanotech super-suit: Avengers Assemble!
Once the Avengers are assembled in their fighting togs, Tony Stark begins the briefing complete with Power Point 3D holodisplays. “Thanos wants to use the Infinity Gauntlet to establish perfect birth control throughout the Universe, making it possible for sentients no matter how they reproduce, to only reproduce when they WANT to, without resorting to abortion or medical procedures, or genetic alterations.”
He pauses to see if anyone is listening. A quick repulsor burst wakes up Drax who had begun to snore.
Tony continues: “They simply have to want to be pregnant and their species auto-magically checks against its local food supplies and their biology agrees if there is enough food and disagrees when they don’t, preventing unwanted births and reducing population pressures on every world.”
Doctor Strange: <sarcastically> “What a fiendish plot.” His cloak agrees and the two start floating toward the door. “I’ll see myself out.”
Captain America: <looking confused> “But Tony, that seems perfectly reasonable.”
Tony Stark: “But I was going to invent that next week.”
Doctor Banner: “If I were you, I’d run to the patent office. It sounds like a really good idea. Too bad you didn’t come up with it first.”
Thanos suddenly appears.Doctor Strange hands Thanos the Time Gem.
Doctor Strange: “Seems reasonable to me. Hope it works out.”
Thanos walks over to the Vision, who unsure of what to do, allows the Titan to continue his approach. The rest of the Avengers power up and get ready for battle.
Thanos uses the Reality Gem and transfers the Vision’s consciousness to a new neural network jewel and takes the Mind Gem, popping it right off the Vision’s face, before snapping in a new one. The Vision smiles at Wanda who is overjoyed to be free of the burden of the Infinity Gem.
Thanos: “You may have the patent for humanity, Stark. Your people will remember you.” A patent form appears in front of Tony, already signed and dated for tomorrow. Before Thanos vanishes with a tear in his eye, he stares at the Avengers who still look mostly confused and says: “It was worth it, daughter.”
Gamora’s disembodied voice echoes from the Soul Stone. “I beg to disagree, Thanos.”
With a snap of his fingers, the Infinity Gauntlet does the deed and he disappears to his retirement planet. The Bifrost arrives and Thor, Rocket and Groot arrive, ready for battle as Thanos disappears.
Thor: Shall we give chase, Rabbit?
Rocket: I don’t think so. Everybody still alive and nothing’s broken. I could use a ride home, though.
The Avengers look at each other as they file out the door.
Stark: (picking up the patent papers): “I guess Pepper and I will let you know if it worked. What do you think of the name, Morgan?”
The Black Panther looks at Tony and shakes his head. “That was too much information, Stark. Too much, indeed. Okoye, let’s go home.”
Okoye: “Yes, my King. These colonizers and their drama are so tiresome. Let’s pick up the blueprints for a Starbucks on the way.”
Captain America: Your Highness, can I hitch a ride? I was hoping to spend some time with Bucky where we aren’t trying to kill each other or save the world.
T’challa: Of course. I think Shuri’s finished with his repairs and I did promise you a new shield…
Get out there and enjoy Avengers: Endgame, in theaters on April 26, 2019.
I wrote part of this essay in May 2018 as an answer to the Quora question:
Avengers: Infinity War: why doesn’t Thanos just make the universe more prosperous/create more food with the gauntlet instead of wiping out half of all life if his intentions are to make the universe a better place?
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.